All That I Am by Anna Funder

Here is another book crossed off of my reading list. A fantastic book–definitely joins the ranks in my personal reading history with The Time Traveler’s Wife and My Sister’s Keeper. What Anna Funder did with All That I Am absolutely blew me away.

What these books have in common for me is the after-reading-glow I experience when I’ve finally finished these books. It leaves me thinking and I end up reading the acknowledgements in my desperate need to feel somehow even closer to this story.

I rarely ever summarize a book I’ve read, but here it is.

All That I Am is a novel of the story of Nazi Germany told through the eyes of two different–and real–people. Ernst Toller and Ruth Blatt. While Funder takes fictional license to each of these character’s narratives, it is with much research of the historical facts from these two people’s lives.

While googling her book, I found a few comments and ratings on I was surprised that there were readers who took issue with the time lapse in the story and somehow they felt it was unclear; I can only assume these readers are used to reading Goosebumps or Twilight. I felt the the narrative switch is quite clear in the entire novel. There was always a clear distinction between present narrative and past narrative by the use of present tense and past tense.

The only reason I can think of the time line switch being confusing for readers is if the reader itself lacked the common sense knowledge of WWI and WWII. Common sense knowledge such as the general time line of when each War took place. Therefore, I do not think the book itself needs to make any apologies.

One of the many aspects that made this book so important to me is the writing. Funder is a poet, a storyteller, and a mistress of prose all at the same time. She understands the balance between Action and Narrative of a story incredibly well and her use of this balance in her story is one of the best I have seen in all the fiction I’ve read. Another comment on mentioned that while the book was wonderfully written, the reader had a difficult time getting into the story. This was not so for me. I was immediately drawn into the book by the first paragraph, and the enchantment did not end for me until the very last sentence of the short biography blurb of Funder on the back cover of the book. I attribute this enchantment to Funder’s masterful use of action-narrative-action-narrative balance in her writing.

I also have to admit–my obsession with this book may have to do with my interest in both WWI and WWII. An interest that was peaked by Mr. Edgett, my Grade 11 History teacher. Even though his pits were constantly drenched–something we got to see every time he raised his arm to pull down the World Map–Mr. Edgett captivated me with his re-telling of the famous Schlieffen Plan. It’s amazing that this man was able to make a normally boring subject come so alive for 16 year old me. Mr. Edgett didn’t focus on the date of each event, instead he glossed over it and emphasized how each of these events were connected; in short, he showed us the bigger picture.  

I still remember the mock run of the Versailles Treaty as well as the Nuremberg Trials. I was paired with my friends Kris and Jenn and we represented England. The two of them convinced me to be the Monarch of England (a useless figurehead) while they represented the Parliamentary Government.

Eleven years later, my fascination with both World Wars has not died. During university my passion for the analysis of these events was crushed by the mindless memorization of dates and names–facts that supports the study of history while distracting from real analysis. The professors of history always seemed uninterested in sharing their theories and their analysis of these events–instead they stood on the podium and rattled off dates and names like bored auctioneers who hated their jobs. It was obvious that the part of giving lectures to undergrads was the most tedious task of their professorship and they had no passion for it. Instead, they were more interested in passing their knowledge down to a select few students who managed to maintain enough wonder to carry their study into a Masters degree.

And who can blame them? How is it possible for one person to make such a connection with hundreds of students whom they saw for 120 minutes a week when they can make much more intimate connections with 10 students instead?

Here I go again, off on a tangent.

Funder has reinvigorated my passion for history by her story telling. She has reminded me that the study of history is not just about dates and names, but the study of all that has gone before–and perspective. I’m very grateful to have read this book.

Next on my list? Ernst Toller’s I Was A German of course.

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